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What Are the Pros and Cons of Steam Cooking?

Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The pros and cons of steam cooking are numerous, so every cook needs to consider these issues before choosing steaming as a cooking method. Steam cooking is traditional in many cultures and is often valued for its ability to cook delicate foods so that they do not fall apart, to maintain the color of various foods, and to preserve the nutrients of a food during the cooking process. Many cooks also like steaming because it does not require the addition of fat, and food can become steam-impregnated with the flavor of herbs and spices added during the cooking process. On the other hand, there is a danger of being burned by steam, and some people prefer the flavor that oils and fats can add to foods and may miss the ability to brown foods during the cooking process.

Many people advocate steam cooking, as it is considered to be a healthy food preparation method. Unlike frying or sautéeing, steaming does not add calories to food. Some steam cooking advocates also point out that because the food is not immersed in water, vital nutrients are not leached out from the food during the cooking process. This means that more valuable nutrients are consumed along with the food. Steam cooking also does not substantially alter the appearance of food by causing browning or the fading of vibrant colors. Vegetables prepared in a steam cooker often retain the appearance of fresh vegetables, which can make for much more appealing plate.

On the other hand, steam cooking has its detractors. Steam can cause serious burns, and because steam quickly dissipates from a container, those who are not careful may end up burning themselves while engaging in this type of cooking or removing food from a steamer. Furthermore, because browning is not possible during steaming, some foods, such as meat, may not have an appealing appearance after being prepared in a steamer. In addition, the browning process can often add significant flavor and texture to foods that may be missed by those who eat steam-prepared meals.

One significant advantage to steam cooking is that the method itself doesn't generally require a whole lot of special equipment. While steam cookers and steam ovens are certainly available, steaming can take place using a simple steam basket, which typically costs very little. This means that cooks do not have to invest a lot of money in special equipment and can pick and choose which foods will taste and look best when prepared by this method.

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Discussion Comments

By whiteplane — On Jan 03, 2012

Lots of people think steam cooking is just for calorie counters but there are some really ambitious chefs out there who are taking steam cooking in exciting new directions.

They use they steam cooking process to give meats a rich juiciness and they will often steam things in specialized broths which flavor the food.

Some of the more adventurous restaurant in New York and London feature gourmet steamed entrees on their menu and there has been a renewed interest in all the possibilities of this usually dismissed cooking process. It is unlikely to end up on the menu at Applebees anytime soon but it is catching on.

By tigers88 — On Jan 03, 2012

@Ivan83 - I agree with a lot of what you are saying and for a while I was eating tons of steam cooking recipes I would find online. But I had to give it up because most of what I was eating turned out so bland.

Fat is a flavor that the human body craves. When you have a diet that has pretty much no fat you begin to notice it. I found that after eating a lot of steamed food I would end up pigging out on really greasy stuff because I craved fats so much.

I still eat a lot of the recipes I used to steam, now I just cook things in a moderate amount of olive oil. It satisfies my cravings, is not terribly unhealthy and it gives more substances to the steamed meals. I think its a good compromise if you still want to eat healthy.

By Ivan83 — On Jan 02, 2012

I like steam cooking because it is such a pure and low fat way of cooking. All you are eating is exactly what you are cooking. I think this is a really refreshing idea and the health benefits are obvious.

Its is so hard to get away from food that is prepared and processed for you these days. everything comes out of a box or a can or has a jar of sauce with it or a flavor packet. Its hard to eat a meal that is nothing but what you put into it.

That is why I love steam cooking so much. I will steam up some stir fry vegetables, cook some rice and toss everything together with a little salt and pepper and maybe some curry powder. Its a delicious and nutritious meal and I know exactly what I am putting into my body.

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